In his foreword (whimsically rendered “Deployed Forward”), Alan Farrell ridicules pretension, incomprehensibility, poetry as therapy, literary critical jargon, posturing, the cult of free verse, swingebuckling, and shallow war poetry cliches. Nevertheless you sense that he is trying to be restrained and polite, and barely succeeding. Farrell’s reader might then expect carefully crafted and elegantly ironic poems like many of the best World War II work, but the poems in Expended Casings better evoke rondeaus, with their song-like structures, and Kipling ballads, with Farrell’s skillful use of demotic GI language and the grotesque humor of the military.
The diction is conversational, colorful, profane, and seemingly spontaneous, and the speaker’s stance is skeptical, self-effacing, and alert to absurdity. Here is a former professor of language and literature who can write a profane parodic update of Henry Reed’s “The Naming of Parts,” burlesque classic structure with a brief, hilariously obscene ten-canto expression of GI helplessness, and narrate mythic anecdotes of training and combat that ring all too true. Alan Farrell stands out as one of the few unique voices among Vietnam War veteran poets.
For the price of a restaurant appetizer, we get 13 poems we will come back to now and again with pleasure. Don’t look for this in a bookstore. It’s available at Amazon; given dysphemistic army humor, I imagine that Alan Farrell would be amused to see that when I looked at the Amazon page, two of the ads (presumably triggered by the word “casings”) were for “sausage making supplies” and “butcher supplies.” (a version of this review was posted on Amazon)